INTERVIEW WITH JOEY CASTILLO
INTERVIEW BY STEVE OLSON
INTRODUCTION BY STEVE OLSON
PHOTOS BY MATTHEW FIELD
Pound the drum, M.F. Beat the drum, M.F. Destroy all drums…M.F. This is what comes to mind when thinking of Joey C’s playin’, Playin’, like his life depends on it… Committed is not even close to describing the way Joey hits… Krupa, Moon, Bateman… Joey C’s one of those, if you even know what I’m talkin ’bout, If not, you don’t know what you’re MISSING… So take a word of advice, Seeing is believing, hearing it, is what it’s all about…so do it, and I’ll talk to you about it later…
What bands have you been in?
The first band was Wasted Youth. It was the second era of the band, from ’84-’88. Then I was in a band called Sugartooth. We formed in late ’90 and played until ’94. Then I joined Danzig from 1994-2002. I replaced Biscuits, but I was playing with the original band. I’ve been in Queens of the Stone Age from 2002.
How did you start drumming?
I grew up in South Bay and was always into punk rock. I was hanging out with some dudes that were older than I was and everyone was trying to start a band. I played a little bit because of a neighbor who had a drum set. After he moved away, I didn’t play for a while. When I was in the tenth grade, I started playing again.
What year was that?
That was in ’81. We were already into punk rock big time, but I’d never played in a band. Some dude was like, ‘You play the drums?’ And that’s how it began.
How did you get into punk rock?
In ninth grade, I discovered Rodney on the ROQ.
I saw that Rodney got a star on Hollywood Blvd.
That’s awesome. It’s about time.
I would never go to any other person’s star deal, but that’s great.
Yeah, it is. KROQ was still AM/FM then. They played cool shit. They’d play AC/DC, Devo, The Germs, The Blasters and Black Flag. That was all on Rodney’s show. I hadn’t really been to any shows and hadn’t really met anybody. I was just getting into punk rock from listening to his show. I couldn’t even get to Hollywood yet, other than my parents driving me there to go buy jeans or something. Punk rock, for me, started with Skateboarder magazine. I was seeing people like you and Duane Peters. Regardless of what anyone says, Devo also played a big part of that. Devo was the shit.
They were huge. Nobody gives them enough props. They deserve a lot of credit.
They were total weirdos. I was reading Skateboarder and Creem.
I saw Billy Idol in Creem and I was like, ‘Wow.’
It was Gen X and that kind of stuff. My parents listened to a lot of different music. I was always around it. I fucked off in school. I was always drawing Led Zeppelin logos instead of listening in class. My heart wasn’t into school. I got through it, but I didn’t ever want to be there. I met some guys that were into punk rock and started going to Hollywood and hanging out. That was it. The first punk rock gig I saw was X and the Gears at the Whisky in 1980. I was like, ‘This is fucking it!’ I stood in the back. I was still some shaggy longhair kid. There was nothing punk about me, other than knowing what was happening. Seeing that opened up a door for me. My parents knew I was done at that point. They knew I wasn’t going back to school or going to college, so they bought me a drum set.
[Laughs] Oh, so they were supportive of it?
Oh, yeah, always. At first they were like, ‘You have to go back to school.’ But they knew the minute they dropped me off at school, I was walking out the back door and catching a ride to Hollywood. They were like, ‘If this is what you want to do and this is what you’re going to do, so be it.’
How stoked are they now?
They love it. They are so supportive. They can sit back and say, ‘I believed in him.’ They come to my gigs a lot. They used to come see me in Wasted Youth and stand in the back. They’d be at Danzig shows, sitting down and rapping with Glenn. They’ve always been able to get along. They love it. I was lucky in that.
They bought you your first drum kit.
Actually, my grandmother did. She was my mom’s mom. It was a little rinky-dink shit kit, but I was like, ‘Hell, yeah.’ That was it. It came naturally. It basically came from listening to records and trying to emulate what I’d heard.
You had no problem with the dexterity of having every limb moving?
Oh, no, man. It felt pretty natural to me. I just found some pictures of me on a toy kit as a kid. It’s a little Sears kit with a swirl bass drum head. I was standing behind it. It was a Christmas gift and I’m holding the sticks correctly. They say that’s how you know. A lot of people will pick them up wrong. I was holding them right back then.
What happened to those drums?
I tried to jump through the bass drum one time to see if I would bounce and that was it for that kit.
[Laughs] Were you into other music before the whole punk rock thing?
As a kid, my parents listened to a lot of core soul, like War and Al Green. My dad was a big Zep’ head. My mom was into the soul stuff, and whatever was on AM radio. I was raised on rock, soul and Mexican music. I listened to it all.
So punk rock was the opening.
It opened us up to who The Stooges were. It opened us up to the Bowie era and how influential it was to what we were listening to. Kids nowadays don’t do their homework.
That’s what makes me crazy. How can you not know where it all came from? We figured it out.
My little brother is 24 now. He grew up in the hip-hop era, which is cool. What most people don’t know is that the punks were at the hip-hop shows for N.W.A. and Run DMC before anybody else. It was a big mix of a lot of different things. Go to YouTube and download Jerry Lee Lewis and watch how insane he is. I saw him at the Palomino in ’83. It was the most punk, insane thing I’ve ever seen in my life. There is no one that’s feeling what they’re doing on stage like that. They don’t call him a killer for nothing.
[Laughs] He definitely kills his piano. So were you skateboarding then, too?
Yeah, but it was mainly street. There were some quarter pipes in people’s driveways. It was that whole thing.
That doesn’t count.
[Laughs] That’s true, but that’s how I started. Growing up in South Bay, all the kids had to have E.T. Rip Sticks. E.T. was it.
I know the Kevin Anderson story.
Those boards were the shit. I still have a flat fiberglass Bahne with Chicago’s.
You’re so smart for holding on to your shit.
That’s one of the only ones I still have. All of the rest I lost. I have a Hosoi hammerhead. The one deck I kick myself for losing was the Shogo Kubo Airbeam. My parents drove me up to Dogtown USA, Rip City. I went there and bought it. I had it for a year. I never rode it that much because I didn’t want to fuck it up. Then one year, I moved and just gave it to someone. I loved those decks. I had one of yours with the checkerboards.
I don’t give a fuck about that. Do you think punk rock and skateboarding have the same energy?
Absolutely. It’s that whole thing of ‘Fuck the rules.’ When I look back on all those Skateboarder magazines, I saw you and the Z Boys. I remember going to punk shows and seeing Jay Adams. He was one of the dudes that I looked up to as a skater and for who he was and I was standing next to him at a gig. I couldn’t believe it. It all went hand-in-hand.
You can get a skateboard and go skate or you can start to play an instrument.
For me, there was a direct connection between the two. I remember opening Skateboarder and seeing that Peters had shaved his head. He had these ’50s Bermudas shorts and this ’50s sweater. I was like, ‘Yeah!’ Next thing you know, I’m like, ‘Mom, can you cut my hair?’ There was definitely a link. I always read music reviews in Skateboarder back then.
They were reviewing Blondie and Devo. Devo was key. They had skateboarders in their videos. They had Rector kneepads. As twisted as Devo was, as brilliant as they were, they were on fire.
[Laughs] I agree.
How did you get into Wasted Youth?
I was just hanging out with kids and going to shows. I knew the drummer Alan [Steritz] because he grew up in South Bay. He was from Hawthorne. There was always a mutual friendship there. I started playing with them when Alan left. It was myself, Chett [Lehrer] and another friend of mine, Paul, singing for the band. I ran into them at a show at the Civic. They were looking for a drummer and asked me to come down and play.
How long had you been playing?
I’d been playing four or five years. I was just playing in garage bands with friends at home. They were like, ‘Learn these songs.’ They gave me six songs to play off Reagan’s In. I went out to Chatsworth, where they rehearsed, and they were like, ‘Do you want the gig?’ The next thing I knew, we were playing.
What shows were you guys doing?
We were doing Fender’s Ballroom. We did CB’s Matinee when we were in New York on tour. I loved that. That was fucking awesome.
Who were you playing with?
Bad Brains, Social Distortion, JFA, The Adolescents… We played with Murphy’s Law and The Cro-Mags. The Cro-Mags were just starting then. We played with the Circle Jerks a lot.
Did you ever play a roller rink with the Circle Jerks in Pico Rivera?
Yeah, it was the Pico Rivera Roller Derby.
I was with The Joneses at the time. It was the Circle Jerks, Wasted Youth and some other bands.
We played with the Circle Jerks all the time. We just started gigging. I did an EP with Wasted Youth when I first joined. We recorded it at the studio where the Circle Jerks record, and that’s where I met Charlie Quintana from The Plugz. That was the first EP I did. I was still young, then.
How was it to meet these dudes in bands that you had seen play?
It was awesome. When I joined Wasted Youth, the guitar player’s brother was Lucky Lehrer, the drummer for the Circle Jerks. It was great to meet him. I knew Spit Stix, the drummer for Fear, pretty well. He was my guy.
There haven’t been many bands as powerful as Fear.
You know that. Back then, they could slay anybody. They were in a whole different league. To describe that and explain it to someone now is impossible. That band put out what most bands now wish they could put out. You’re never going to see it again. I know there are great bands out there now, but that energy and that time, in such a small scene like that, you’ll never see it again. My ultimate band, next to Fear and Black Flag, is The Damned. People say, ‘Oh, they’re all right,’ It’s unbelievable to hear someone say that.
What drummers influenced you?
Rat Scabies is awesome. He’s retarded and awesome. I loved Biscuits and Spit Stix. I loved Robo from Black Flag, too.
He had the cymbals really high.
It’s like Scott Asheton from the Stooges. That kind of drumming is what I love. Some people think it’s simple and fucked up, but it’s so creative that you can’t be taught that kind of shit. I love his playing. Of course, I love Bonham, too.
So you were into punk rock, then you were in Wasted Youth and then you were in Sugartooth. What was the whole thing with Sugartooth?
It was Sabbath-y with a Soundgarden/Nirvana vibe. It was cool. We had a major deal with Geffen and did two records.
From Wasted Youth to Sugartooth, how did that happen?
For me, punk rock ended with our last Wasted Youth record in ’87. It was during that crossover time, with Suicidal, DRI and Corrosion of Conformity, and there was nowhere for me to go musically. That’s when glam and the big LA bands were happening. I stopped playing and started going to clubs.
You never got into the hair thing, like Poison and Guns N’ Roses?
No. I never got into that. I was going to nightclubs and loving at that point.
[Laughs] How do you go from going to punk rock shows to dance clubs?
After gigs, we’d hit the dance clubs at Seven Seas or the Dirt Box downtown.
There were more girls that went to dance clubs.
Yeah. It was all during that time. I’d end up in those places. That all went hand-in-hand with the regression of punk.
Tell me about the progression of playing in Wasted Youth and then being signed to a major label deal with Sugartooth?
I didn’t have to work anymore.
[Laughs] There’s a huge separation there.
It was a huge difference. When I was in Wasted Youth, I had a job and I had to quit it to go on tour. I didn’t know when I was coming back. We got out there on our first tour in a van, and it sucked. At the same time, it was awesome. When I went on the road, I would come home and say, ‘I never want a job again. I want to do this.’ From that era of Wasted Youth, I was the only one to continue on with music. It was the same with Sugartooth. I’m the only one still playing music. It became a different kind of thing once we were on a label, but we were still touring in a van. We opened up for Soundgarden. We opened up for Pearl Jam. We were playing around with Alice In Chains when they were playing at the Shamrock. We did a gig there and it was Tool, Rage Against the Machine and Sugartooth. Those scenes were just happening then. That was my thing. I just played in bands. After Sugartooth, we did our first record and toured endlessly. Our single, ‘Sold My Fortune,’ did pretty good on the radio. We shot our video at Three of Clubs. We toured and toured and toured. The single ended up on Beavis and Butthead and so we toured some more. Then the label was getting ready to clean house. They kept us, but I knew something was up. During that time, I got a call about Danzig. The last I’d seen of Glenn was after The Misfits with Samhain. I had no clue what was going on with Danzig. I was busy doing my own thing, so an audition was set up for me. I went in there to check it out, but I didn’t know any songs. I didn’t have any of the records. I went down there to the Valley, sat outside the door and listened to the other dudes play. I was the last guy. It was midnight. I went in and told Glenn that I never got the package with the music from the manager. I was like, ‘I’m going off the cuff here.’ He’d been singing all day and he was ready for a break, but he was like, ‘That’s all right. Let’s just do this.’ So we did four songs and that was it. I was like, ‘That’s all I know.’ They were like, ‘No problem. That’s cool. Thanks for coming down.’ I was thinking, ‘There’s no way I got this gig. I was so unprepared.’
But they saw something.
The next day, I got a call from Glenn and his manager on a conference call. They were like, ‘You got the gig. There’s a show Tuesday at the Whisky. Who’s your lawyer?’ I was like, ‘Wait a minute. I’m still in this band Sugartooth.’ They said, ‘Not anymore. If you want this gig, you have to tell us right now.’
Did they offer dough, though?
Oh, yeah. I was going to be put on salary. It was a big step up from where I was.
How was it to jump from your band to the Danzig gig?
It was a big change. The only thing familiar about it was that I knew Glenn from punk rock. I knew who he was and what he was all about. He’s still pretty punk about the way he does things.
They worked hard as the Misfits.
Yeah, they did. He was more into blues-based rock n’ roll, but I was still looking at him as the singer of the Misfits, not as Glenn Danzig.
Is that his real last name?
[Laughs] No. I won’t tell you his real name. He’d kill me. He’s a good dude.
[Laughs] What about telling your band that you were leaving?
They hated me. I called my manager and told him first.
[Laughs] You broke up your own band to further your career.
The problem was that two of us in the band were willing to tour our balls off and give up our life at home, but the other two weren’t. Two of us were willing to give up everything and two of us weren’t. I had to do what I had to do. I called my lawyer and asked him if I was making the right decision. Danzig’s record had just dropped. My next two years were planned out on paper. He said, ‘As your lawyer, I say take that gig. We don’t know what’s going to go on with Sugartooth.’ I told the band that I was going to do the hired gun gig with Danzig and they were like, ‘Fuck that. If you take that gig, you’re out.’ There was no money coming in for me from the band at that point, and there was a possibility that was never going to happen. Then they auditioned new players, but it went nowhere. Later on, I found out that our manager for Sugartooth was offered the opening gig for the Danzig tour and they turned it down without even running it by us. It was because the manager for Danzig, at the time, was trying to manage us, too. That’s how they found out about me. It was just a better career move for me. In the end of it all, I finished the Danzig tour and when I got home, the guys from Sugartooth called me to record the second record with the Dust Brothers. So I ended up making the second record with them anyway.
[Laughs] Oh, really?
Then they wanted me to come back, but I couldn’t. I was under contract at that point. They fucked me over and never put my name on the record. They put the new drummer’s name on it instead. They put a special thanks and that was it. They were bitter.
Lame. So you were in the van with Wasted Youth and Sugartooth and then on to Danzig.
I did my first gig with them after only a week of rehearsal.
How was it playing with Danzig?
It was awesome. It was different from the Misfits. It was different from Samhain, but it was rockin’. It was all blues-based. Glenn’s never going to change. He still gives it his all. He goes out, tears balls and the kids eat it up. I was still playing with the original band then. I was coming in after one of my biggest heroes, Chuck Biscuits. He was one of my biggest influences as a player. Coming in to take his place was a big thing for me, so that was cool. I enjoyed it. I went from playing the Whisky to playing Irvine Meadows in a night. It just unfolded from there.
How about the comfort of getting paid, too?
It makes things easier. There’s nothing wrong with making a living at what you do when you love it. The whole ‘sell out’ thing is just bullshit. That punk rock guilt is something I don’t subscribe to. I busted my ass for years. I paid my dues over and over. I’ve worked hard for it. I have nothing but good things to say about having a taste of success. It’s been good.
You’re a great drummer. You should be paid for that. Fuck the punk rock guilt.
Nothing changes where you came from.
Punk rock guilt gets you nowhere.
When I did my first tour with Glenn, he gave me a bonus of $10,000 in cash. I came home and bought a ’66 Impala. And I took my parents out to dinner. I kept working and things were happening. Glenn really did right by me. That tour put me into a different place to be seen and heard. I didn’t give anything up. I loved it. It was great.